Story Update: Andre J On Defying Gender Constraints & Choosing “Faith Over Fear.”

by Andre J.

Nathan: Welcome to this week’s Story Update. We’re going to be speaking with Andre, who shared their story with us just over five years ago. But before we do, let’s take a look at their story.

Andre: Hi, I’m Andre J and from New York New Jersey.

I remember this one particular time growing up in the projects that I was coming home from school and a 20-year-old looked at me and said, “You’re a sissy now and when you grow up you’re going to be a faggot and you’re going to take it in the–” I’m not going to say the graphic part. And it’s ironic because my Auntie overheard her and my aunt was just shocked that, how could someone say something as mean to a child, and my auntie committed an act of whoop-ass, that’s what we called it. She and my aunt actually started fighting and from that moment on, I was shocked. I had never experienced anything as severe or as critical as that. And that made me not like going outside, that made me stay in the house, and from staying in the house I found this passion for television.

And on television I realized that there was a woman named Diana Ross and then there was Cher. And these ladies were beautiful, they were magical, they were captivating, they were sophisticated, they were classy. And that was my escape. It gave me this liberation of loving yourself. There was a poise and a grace that they had that inspired or ignited something in me that I just wasn’t aware of. I remember at 10 years old, I remember going into the bathroom one day and I saw my reflection in the mirror and I said, “Andre, I love you.” From that moment of really understanding that love to myself, I felt this huge relief.

So years later, I decided, you know, I met a few friends, they were like, “Let’s go to L.A., it’s a new start, we don’t know anyone, we can master our artistry, it’s a whole new beginning.” It was wonderful. So when I got to L.A. they were fascinated by my style so I ended up doing three appearances on Jay Leno, I ended up being on this reality show called “Being Bobby Brown” with Whitney Houston, and I was like, “Oh my goodness” all of these things that people teased me about or called me names about. Those things that were supposed to be my flaws were really my strengths.

And I was like, “I’m going back.” I’m like, “L.A., this is cute, this is great, but peace! I’m out of here, I’m going back.” So I went back to Newark and from Newark, on the airplane I saw something about Two-Spirits. Now Two-Spirits are Native Americans and the Two-Spirit basically represents the balance of the masculine and feminine spirit. But with Two-Spirits, they focus on gender and your gender is the focus of the role you play in your community. So when I saw that, I was like, “oh my goodness” so this is not just about gay or straight, this is about the spirit of people, this is about the way people feel about themselves.

So when I returned back to New York City I had this new idea of life, this new energy, this spice. I decide I’m going to wear a wig and women’s clothes and heels and dresses. When I was doing this in 2005, no one looked like what I was doing. And I started working for Patricia Field and I became the PR Director for the boutique and I had a client by the name of Joe McKenna and ironically one day I’m walking down the street to have lunch and Joe yells to me and says, “Andre, I’m on the phone with Bruce Weber and he should shoot you.”

And I’m like, “Okay, it’s New York, sure, let’s make it happen.” I get a phone call from Bruce’s assistant, her name is Gwen. I remember this day so vividly.

Gwen says to me, “Andre, I want you to come to a casting to shoot with Bruce.” So I get there and it’s the most shocking experience you can imagine like, this is Bruce Weber who shoots for Abercrombie and Fitch, who shoots for Vogue, I mean he’s Bruce Weber, like the greatest.

So I show up for this casting and to make a long story short I end up booking the job. And to make it even more fantastic is I am on the cover of French Vogue 2007 which makes me the only African American male–statistically male–but the only African American male, genderless, to grace the cover of French Vogue. It’s the most unbelievable experience that one can have.

I think the overall vision of what it is that you see comes from the depth of me loving myself. It’s not just about the exterior. The exterior is what it is because the interior actually is in alignment with it. I love myself. The most important thing you can do regardless of what anyone is saying to you, find out who you are. Love yourself. You are going to experience adversities, you’re going to experience diversity, you’re going to experience all the things under the sun, that’s just part of life. But the real focus of you living your life is the importance of loving yourself. There’s nothing like it. You can conquer all when you love yourself.

Nathan: Okay. Welcome, Andre. How are you? How’s it going?

Andre: Hey, Nathan, how are you? I’m very well, thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Nathan: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. IN your story, you talked about, you know, you were in New Jersey and then you went to LA and had all of this success and found some fame. And you, you moved back to the East coast. Where are you these days?

Andre: I am in Newark, New Jersey. That’s where I reside. And especially now with this… the sadness of the pandemic that’s going on in the world, you know, I haven’t really experienced that posttraumatic stress disorder as a new Yorker because I’m in New Jersey.

So New York is much more fast paced and New Jersey is calmer and slower. So I’m at a different element of inner peace. So it feels really, really, really, different, but yet you know, change brings greatness. You know, my slogan was Every adversity brings you to your greatness. And I just feel like this is just another extension of it.

Nathan: That doesn’t… bases on your story… based on your story, that doesn’t surprise me at all that you’ve found some sort of way of looking at this in a positive, positive light. And speaking of which, I – one thing that I really loved about your story is that when you were just 10 years old, you talked about how you looked in a mirror, after some challenges and you just said, Andre, I love you to yourself.

Is that kind of positive thinking and that kind of stuff helping you through this pandemic? And also, what would you tell other people who are having a hard time through the pandemic, how to kind of cope with it?

Andre: Faith over fear. Faith over fear. Faith over fear. Faith over fear. It’s either you got the faith or you’re going to have the fear. You can’t be both so it’s either you’re going to choose faith and commit to it, or you’re going to choose fear and you’re going to commit to it. And for me, I chose faith because faith is extremely, extremely, extremely, extremely, extremely important and uncertainty – as well as during this whole COVID thing, I lost two family members, also. I lost two cousins. They were sisters and they were less than two months apart. Less than two months apart. So that created its own void because we couldn’t send them off properly. We couldn’t have that family gathering, that family structure that you usually have during the repass. You know, where the family comes together. They’re, you know, they… they have those family memories, they hug, they talk, they eat food and they have that bonding, you know. That was absent. So that was also extremely, extremely, extremely critical in this whole COVID 19 situation. It’s been a very interesting experience, nonetheless, for all of us.

Nathan: Yeah. I’m so sorry to hear that… that you lost people that you love.

Andre: Thank you.

Nathan: How… what was that process afterwards like for you to… how did you – I don’t want to say you overcame it because who can overcome something like that? But how did you move on from that? What kind of, you know, how did you look in and try to figure that out?

Andre: There’s nothing you can do, you know? It’s not like there was an option or there was not like there was other resources. There’s nothing you can do. It’s only 10 people at a time, you know, it’s… you can’t have the family come together like that. It’s just – and that’s just for safety, you know, just for the rest of the family to continue to be alive.

So, you know, it’s extremely important to take those necessary steps. And, you know, once this all comes to pass, there will be like, you know, a come-together and we can really, really, really do it the right way. But we – you have to stay safe and, you know, in the end it’s just really about being safe.

Nathan: Yeah. Right. And I hope that you are staying safe during all this. There was one more thing that I wanted to talk about from your story is that, in it, you talked about two-spirit and you talked a little bit about it in your story. But can you explain what two-spirit is to people who might not know what that is?

Andre: Well, two-spirits are Native Americans who actually possess the spirits of masculine and feminine, and they go through a ritual to… if it’s a boy that has the spirits of a girl, they’ll go through a ritual and allow that child to be backed up what they feel spiritually. And for me, understanding what two-spirits was and really learning about it and it really had a major effect on me as well, because then it allowed me to see that this wasn’t about being gay. This was truly about having a spiritual experience. You know, it’s an element of sacredness. And it’s a sacredness that I do – that I find that many people are denied because, you know, homophob- you know, there’s so much homophobia going on in the world. There’s so much transphobia going on in the world. But there was a time when they were revered and respected and honored.

And you know, it’s so interesting how the structure of culture has been whitewashed and just removed. And it now has people feeling less than when originally they were hierarchy, pretty much. They were really considered like gods and goddesses because they had the ability to see through the gaze of masculine and feminine. Whereas men only see through one gaze, a man. Women only see through one gaze. You know, as a woman. But a two-spirit possess the ability to see through both. And once you possess the ability to seek through both, you were considered gifted.

So it’s that element of, for me, that really rang true with the two-spirits because my situation is definitely a spiritual situation. Clearly, as you can see by the way that I look. This is more than just about sleeping with a man or being attracted to a man or any of those… any of those generic elements of what LGBTQ is or non-binary. You know, those things are on such a superficial, old-school, brainwashing, self-hatred type of journey that – we’re in 2020. I mean, clearly the world is changing. We’ve got to be somehow progressive in 2020 going into 2021.

You know, that’s just old school philosophy that really just needs to end. And I believe that visibility matters and visibility is important. So for me, it’s about showing up as myself, as my authentic self, because I believe once people understand to show up as their authentic self, it then begins to break down the barriers of what keeps us in fear. And usually what keeps us in fear is, you know, the belief of what others think of us.

And realistically, why do you give a shit, what someone else thinks about you? Because they’ve got their own dirty laundry that they need to be washing and working on. And you should just be true to who you are as an individual, as a spirit, and just as someone who honors thyself.

Nathan:  I love that. And I guess that’s what a faith over fear is all about, Really, so…

Andre: All about.

Nathan: What else are – this is a very open ended question – what else are you up to these days? Are you, you know, what’s going on in your life?

Andre: I’m so glad you asked. Well doing COVID also, I created these – I’m creating content, so that’s what I’m actually doing right now.

I just filmed a show yesterday. it’s called Black Joy. And Black Joy is is a high vibrational vibe that’s created through music, conversation and trivia and performance. I have an amazing DJ. Her name is Monday Blue and my cohost is Raja Feather Kelly, and we do this hour and a half zoom gathering. It’s like we all come together and people get on zoom and they watch us and they dance with us. And, you know, they answer the questions with us and it’s really about lifting the vibration of humanity, but lifting the vibration of Black people specifically considering the genocide that it is… has always existed, but just randomly is being discovered and discussed, you know. Or when I see white people that act as if they don’t understand what racism is and I’m thinking to myself, There’s no way that you can’t what racism is. So Black Joy  basically is a cultural rebellion. You know, it’s about celebrating your Blackness, celebrating your life, celebrating the lives of others, and truly, truly, truly, truly, truly feeling joy. Because joy is a healing vibration.

You know, there’s a lot of trauma floating around in the air and at some point you need to have some sort of joyous, harmonious, you know, collective energy and that’s what Black Joy does. It allows you to find your tribe. It allows you to, you know, be in this safe space where you can truly be your authentic self. And I just love, love, love, love, love, love, love doing it. And I love creating content.

During Covid, I created another five video episode called the Afro Speaks. And I created this big Afro wig out of four afro wigs that I had. And through that, I would then give self-help tips and self care tips on how to survive during Covid. It’s just been a really good time to be creative because you know, through that creativity, it really allows you to touch lives and save souls.

Nathan: So Andre, where can people find all this stuff that you’re talking about?

Andre: Oh my goodness, honey, you follow me on Instagram. AndreJWorldwide. AndreJWorldwide. AndreJWorldwide. Come on through. Come on through. Come on. Come on. Come on through.

Nathan: What was your Instagram?

Andre: Should I say that again? It’s AndreJWorldwide. Come on through. Come get that feed that you need of positive energy. Come get that feed that you need a glamor. Come get that feed that you need of just having the ability to see what freedom is because seeing what freedom is also inspires others to seek that freedom as well, you know? So come on through. Come on through. Come on through.

Nathan: That’s beautiful. Andre, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. It’s so good to see you again. I know that a couple of years ago, we bumped into each other on the streets of New York and it was so great to run into you then, and I hope to see you again soon.

Thank you again, Andre. Have a good one and we’ll be in touch and everyone else, we’ll see you next week for next week’s Story Update. Thanks.

Sharing your story can change someone's life. Interested in learning more?